GREEN BAY – When the schedule came out in April, a Week 4 bye was not popular with the Packers.
The team has obviously changed its tune.
With four defensive starters and a key rotational player missing Sunday’s win over Detroit, plus two offensive skill players exiting the game with injuries, the Packers will put the healing time to good use.
Not that any team gets out of the woods injury-wise in September, but at least nothing can get worse over the next seven days or so.
“It’s early, it’s different, but it’s obvious – we need it,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday regarding the early bye. “This is a good time for us.”
McCarthy did not go into detail on any injury updates, but he sounded hopeful that four of the defensive players out Sunday – Clay Matthews (ankle/hamstring), Morgan Burnett (hamstring), Letroy Guion (knee) and Datone Jones (knee) – would be back for the Giants game on Oct. 9.
“I have no reason to stand here and think that I won’t (have them), but at the end of the day, they have to go through testing and pass everything,” McCarthy said.
Cornerback Sam Shields (concussion), tight end Jared Cook (ankle) and fullback Aaron Ripkowski (back) were not addressed.
For the coaching staff, the bye week is normally a time to review the team’s own film and self-scout. With only three games to study, McCarthy said they’d “dive deeper” into individual evaluation than group review, and they’d present the players with those evaluations when they return next Monday.
Prior to the players’ departure, McCarthy gave them an overview of the first three games.
He noted that for the first time in his coaching career, the running game is ahead of the passing game in its development at this stage of the season. The run defense is also ahead of the pass defense. Both are a reflection of the emphasis in the preseason “to be strong at the line of scrimmage.”
“Teams that run the football well usually defend it very well and vice versa,” McCarthy said. “I feel good about that after Week 3.”
The flip sides will be the focus of improvement when the season’s second quarter commences.
“We need to detail our work,” McCarthy said. “We have so much more that we can do, so much more we want to do.”
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers said the pass defense needs to reduce the QB’s window when a cornerback is rolling up on short routes and leaving a boundary receiver to the safety help over the top. When the timing is off, a strong-armed passer like Detroit’s Matt Stafford can take advantage.
The secondary also needs to make the most of its chances to catch the ball, which would have changed Stafford’s day considerably. Cornerback Damarious Randall, dealing with an illness throughout the game, had the defense’s lone turnover.
“Three others the ball hit us in the hands,” Capers said, referring to plays involving Micah Hyde, LaDarius Gunter and linebacker Joe Thomas. “We have to convert those into takeaways.” Capers added that Gunter was the team’s best cover man against Detroit.
Meanwhile, the run defense continued its barrage of tackles for loss. Four of the Lions’ first five runs went for negative yardage because the guys up front were creating an “inverted line of scrimmage.”
“Our big guys, especially on the outside, have been attacking and knocking people back,” Capers said. “We’ve eliminated the long runs.”
Those were the bugaboo of last year’s run defense, but through three games, the Packers have allowed only one rush for longer than nine yards (a 12-yarder by Minnesota’s Matt Asiata). Opponents have compiled just 128 rushing yards and a 1.8 average per carry, both league bests.
The silver lining to the injury situation is the number of young defenders who have gotten playing time early on. McCarthy said nine rookies or first-year players handled double-digit snaps on defense against Detroit.
“We had an awful lot of young guys on that field,” Capers said. “Our guys will improve from their experience.”
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